Senator: DHS ‘chose to do nothing’ on abuse allegations

Oregon DHS received complaints against foster care provider for years

State Senator Sara Gelser, January 2016 (KOIN)
State Senator Sara Gelser, January 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For more than a decade, officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services have been receiving complaints about Give Us This Day, a foster care provider in Portland.

Complaints included allegations that children were denied food, people were assaulted and even raped.

Despite the seriousness of many of the allegations, in many cases, little action was taken beyond an initial review.

After being told that Give Us This Day was having serious money problems in 2014, DHS officials compiled a log of abuse and neglect allegations previously reported to them, including how they were handled.

Oregon DHS received complaints about Give Us This Day for more than a decade. (Court documents)
Oregon DHS received complaints about Give Us This Day for more than a decade. (Court documents)

The log is 40-pages long and details complaints going back more than a decade.

State Senator Sara Gelser will chair an oversight hearing into how DHS handled the allegations against Give Us This Day on Thursday. She told KOIN 6 News she wants to make sure it never happens again.

“We are making it more clear that the Department of Human Services has the authority and mandate to act quickly when kids are in danger,” Senator Gelser said.

State Senator Sara Gelser will chair an oversight hearing into how DHS handled the allegations against Give Us This Day. (Oregon State Legislature)
State Senator Sara Gelser will chair an oversight hearing into how DHS handled the allegations against Give Us This Day. (Oregon State Legislature)

The senator said she was stunned when she saw the log of complaints.

“When I first became aware of it and heard of it, it was hard for me to believe that it was true because the allegations were so extreme,” she said.

In response to public records requests in recent months, the state has released hundreds of pages of emails and other documents related to Give Us This Day.

And aside from allegations of neglect and abuse that were not always investigated, there is the question of how millions of dollars in state and federal money was spent.

Last October, the state filed a lawsuit against those who ran the Give Us This Day.

In filings supporting their complaint, the Oregon Department of Justice raised questions about hundreds of thousands of dollars in explained withdrawals from Give Us This Day accounts, tens of thousands of dollars spent at restaurants and nail salons and more than $100,000 in travel to places like Las Vegas and Maui.

In a February 2015 letter, a senior assistant attorney general for the Oregon Department of Justice wrote of how “more than 1 million [dollars] in charitable assets have been wasted or used improperly for personal financial gain,” adding that the operators of Give Us This Day “engaged in lavish expenditures from corporate accounts, including frequent cash withdrawals with no documented purpose, travel, restaurant dining, and purchases of clothing and other personal items that appear unrelated to GUTD’s foster care mission.”

For several of the itemized expenditures – including $11,845.90 in purchases at Louis Vuitton – the assistant attorney general concluded, “It is difficult to fathom how such expenses could be related to the organization’s charitable mission.”

That led to a subpoena from the federal government demanding an account of how the money was spent. Thousands of pages of documents released over the past few months detail financial irregularities and show DHS officials knew about the other problems as well.

“I’ve now read hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of public records and the facts are undeniable,” Senator Gelser said. “Kids were neglected, kids were abused, kids were violated. And the very top officials of the Department of Human Services knew about it and actively chose to do nothing.”

Oregon DHS received complaints about Give Us This Day for more than a decade. (Court documents)
Oregon DHS received complaints about Give Us This Day for more than a decade. (Court documents)

Emails from DHS officials going back years show that to be true.

In one email written in 2009, Erin Kelley-Siel, the previous head of child welfare for Oregon, wrote to her boss, the then head of DHS, about some of the problems at Give Us This Day.

“At a site visit last week, numerous concerns arose (on top of the fact that they aren’t licensed) — the most serious of which is that every single staff person has a criminal record,” she wrote.

Kelley-Siel went on to lead DHS for 4 years until July 2015 when she stepped down.

In a 2011 email, another DHS employee wrote, “I’m hearing that the more children they interview, the more consistent allegations they hear,” regarding a different investigation.

KOIN 6 News reached out to DHS for a response and was told to come to Thursday’s hearing.

In December, the State of Oregon moved to get a default judgment against the former operator of Give Us This Day after she refused to respond to court papers.

KOIN 6 News has not been able to reach her for comment.

In a 2014 letter to state officials who requested financial documents, the operator said the investigation was groundless.

“It feels like we have a Mississippi burning, 2014, Oregon style,” she wrote. “It is covert and overt racism and a misuse of power at best.”

Give Us This Day shut down in Fall 2015.

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